Young demonstrators display anti-corporate signs at Freedom Plaza in… (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty…)
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is trying to walk back his criticism of the Occupy Wall Street protesters just days after the Virginia Republican characterized them as "mobs."
At a news conference with reporters on Tuesday, Cantor went for a more empathetic approach, saying he understood why there was unrest.
“People are upset, and they are justifiably frustrated. They’re out of work. The economy is not moving. Their sense of security for the future is not clear at all. People are afraid, and I get it,” he said.
But Cantor’s understanding only went so far. He tried to make a clear distinction between the conservative protesters who disrupted town halls in 2009 and launched tea party rallies in the wake of the passage of healthcare reform, and the activists camping out in parks in New York, Washington and other cities. The tea party activists aimed their complaints at the government, while the Occupy Wall Street protesters were seeking to divide Americans, Cantor said.
“The tea party were very different. The tea party were individuals attempting to address their grievance from the government they elected,” Cantor said. Occupy Wall Street protesters “are pitting themselves against others outside government in America. That’s a difference.”
Shortly before he made his comments, protesters were arrested in the Hart Senate Office Building.
Cantor reserved most of his criticism for unnamed lawmakers he accused of endorsing s “attacks.”
“Everyone in this country has the right to speak out, and that is the beauty of our system,” he said. “But when elected leaders come in and then condone the attacks on others in our country, that’s not helpful, that’s not leadership.”
Some Hill Democrats have offered support for the Occupy Wall Street activists and sharply criticized Cantor’s earlier comments. Cantor suggested that Republican lawmakers did not offer similar support to tea party protesters. Many lawmakers spoke at tea party rallies, joined the tea party caucus in Congress and cheered protests as they held up traffic outside a House office building.
“You didn’t hear most of us encouraging any type of violent behavior or whatever when that was occurring,” he said.